How Ryan Maloney Hacked His Insomnia With the ISS Live Feed

Sometimes unexpected solutions are found in low Earth orbit.

Getty Images/NASA

Pondering the immensity of the universe leads to anxiety on a galactic scale for some. For others, the expanse of space offers a soothing reminder of our comfortable irrelevance. For Ryan Maloney, a medical student from New Jersey, the view from space offers serenity, which is why he set about creating a nightlight using the live feed from the International Space Station.

Using an adjustable arm from a GoPro camera and his laptop, Maloney was able to mount a Sony MP-CL1 Pico projector on his headboard. Now, he projects the live feed of Earth from 1,314,720-feet up onto his ceiling as he goes to sleep, an activity he’s found difficult since leaving college and confronting the uncertainty of the real world. Inverse found Maloney bragging about his original idea on Reddit (where else?) and, thinking that he was being too humble about a great idea, called him up to learn more.

Could you tell me about how you came up with the idea?

About a year and a half ago I started getting insomnia and I didn’t really know how to handle it. After a while, I knew I had to do something to shut off my mind at night. I’ve always been interested in space, and I thought the blackness of space and the beauty of it would be a really soothing way to fall asleep. I had seen the ISS feed before and I always thought that was kind of a cool thing. One night I had my laptop on my bed and I rolled over on it and I almost cracked the screen, and so I started looking into the idea of putting a projector in my room.

The projector mounted on Maloney's headboard


Do you have experience with projectors?

I knew nothing about projectors and I quickly realized that not only were they huge but that I would have to build something. I did some research and found a projector that was small and light and then I decided I was going to put together an idea of how to build the mount. I had some extra GoPro pieces lying around, and I just found some wood in the trash from extra floorboards. I put together the piece that would be behind the headboard because I didn’t want to drill into the wall and then I also realized that the farther from the ceiling I could make it, the better the projection would be due to the throw ratio. The projector I picked has a keystone, which means you can project on an angle, but then you can adjust the screen and make it completely flat so it’s not warped by the angle.

The structure that holds the projector clips to the back of your bed?

It doesn’t even clip in. I just built a square and then a flat piece that would stick out above the headboard so it would only need gravity and the weight of the actual projector weighing it down.

How big is the projection on the ceiling?

52 inches, the way I have it set up.

And you can adjust that?

Yeah so basically because it’s on that arm, I can pivot it in any way I want. All I have to do is just move the arms around and the closer to the ceiling it is, the smaller the screen and then the farther down obviously the bigger. But because it’s a laser projector, I don’t have to adjust the focus or anything I just swing it down and that’s it.

The Sony MP-CL1 pico projector


And the projector just connects to your computer?

Yeah, so the projector came in after two days and I just threw it on a GoPro mount and then I hooked up my computer. I was able to pull up the ISS feed on Youtube and then within five minutes I had it playing up on my ceiling. And the projector itself is nice because it has a two-hour battery life built into it so I don’t have to worry about it dying. It also has an auto shut off feature so I can set it for 30 or 60 minutes and then by the time I’m asleep it shuts itself off.

So the real question is how’s your insomnia?

It has helped a ton.

What specifically about the ISS feed do you think is so relaxing?

The good thing about this is that I don’t even go that deep into my thoughts anymore at night when I’m watching it. I’ve always loved space and I do know a fair amount about it, but really it’s just the serenity of seeing space above and the earth rolling below. It definitely has to do with knowing what that is, but even just watching it I don’t get that deep into thought. It’s just something to zone out to and be able to fall asleep under.

I didn’t realize the insomnia was such a huge part of this project.

I never had any issues falling asleep before. The insomnia came on kind of suddenly. I just needed something to conk myself out to.

What gave rise to your insomnia?

Just a bunch of factors. Definitely the stress of trying to go to medical school doesn’t help. I have to study all day so I’m constantly thinking, so this is a way to completely zone out.

The projected screen on Maloney's ceiling


I’m glad you’re getting some sleep!

I didn’t even think this was going to a big deal when I did it, to be honest. I just pieced it together in a couple hours. It really was such a simple thing to do. I just thought maybe a handful of people would have thought this was cool. The next morning I woke up and obviously it had kind of exploded overnight.

I appreciate that you’re sharing your idea.

Other people were like why don’t you patent this idea? And I was like I didn’t invent the projector, I didn’t invent the space station or Youtube, so it’s not like I made anything on my own. I just found a way to put it all together to solve a personal issue.

I want to build one in my room now.

I’m telling you it’s absolutely worth it. Even though the projector is expensive — I was originally thinking of spending around $100 and it ended up being $320, I think — it works great and it’s barely bigger than my phone.